The Mighty Logo

5 Things Not to Say to Someone Living With Anxiety

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Unless you walk in the shoes of an anxiety sufferer every single day, believe it or not, you’ll never fully relate to the illness. No matter how many articles you read or stories you hear, the firsthand experience is the only way to get it. Lending advice to a loved one isn’t discouraged, but here are a few things that should rarely or never be said to someone with anxiety.

1. “Calm down.” 

When a child cries over a lollipop they can’t have, it’s acceptable to tell them to calm down. But when a person is anxious over nothing, telling them to calm down is the worst thing you can say. Being calm is the first thing an anxious person wants to be, but the last thing they can be.

Instead… offer to do an activity with the person. Even though my hand is far from sturdy, I find painting to be a good way to actually calm down.

2. “It’s all in your head.”

Thank you to the Captain Obvious who came up with this response to anxiety. Yes, every part of being anxious is in your head, but the difference between being able to control the worries and not are neurotransmitters in the brain. I know my thoughts are in my head, but so are the person’s living next door to me and sitting next to me on the subway. I have a hard time getting thoughts out of my head. The other two might take just a second to realize how irrational they might be acting.

Instead… talk it out. Ask what it is the person is thinking about and slowly turn the conversation into a different subject.

3. “I’m stressed out too.”

Although anxiety can work as a stressor, stress is not the same as anxiety. The main difference is that anxiety creates stress over irrational thoughts (most of the time) while stress is created by actual situations. Trying to relate and compare yourself to an anxious person can elevate their feelings and rub them the wrong way. They know you aren’t feeling the way they are, so don’t try to pretend.

Instead… try to ignore the situation. Unless the person voices their anxious feelings, don’t bring it up at all or question if you did something to make them feel that way.

4. “Why don’t you just pop a Xanax?”

The misconception about prescribed drugs for mental illness is that they’re easy recreation for patients. But for the patients, that’s the last thing they are. I personally tried to avoid being prescribed anything at all costs. Now, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’ll probably be taking pills every day for the rest of my life.  When someone tells me to “pop a Xanax” or says how much they love taking SSRI’s recreationally, I can’t help but want to flip out. It’s almost offensive when you hear people take a drug for fun when you essentially need to survive.

Instead… ask if they want to watch a movie and chill. Pushing them past their limits is never a good idea.

5. “Others have it way worse than you.”

I never understood why people would tell me how perfect my life is compared to others when I told them I have generalized anxiety disorder. It made me feel as if they thought I was making my mental illness up and have no reason to feel the way I do. On the outside, I don’t have any reason to feel the way I do. I’ve been well raised and educated, constantly surrounded by family and friends. 

Instead… let the person voice their feelings. Actively engage in conversation and show you understand they’re feeling the way they are. Don’t try to downplay their feelings.

Originally published: November 6, 2014
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home